I was recently talking to a banker I know who shared that he occasionally works from home, but it can be frustrating because, due to security concerns, he is not allowed to print any documents when he’s not in the office.
Huh? Not allowed to PRINT? This is the more aggressive, more absurd version of companies that screen / limit Web access at work (because, you know, it’s not like people can get online with their smartphones), in the hopes that troves of people won’t fritter away hours on facebook or reading (gasp!) blogs full of idle chatter.
At the other end of the spectrum, all of the most interesting, successful people I know have multi-faceted lives that pull them in all directions. They run companies and serve on multiple Boards and convene interesting groups of their peers. They write books or blogs – sometimes directly about what they do and sometimes, apparently, only tangentially related. They thrive in ambiguous situations that blur the line between work and social and fun.
I know that real constraints exist in the world, that big companies are victim to frivolous lawsuits, that running a 100,000 person company isn’t the same thing as running a 100 person shop.
So fine, let’s operate within these constraints.
But as a boss (or as someone who has a boss), you have a choice to make. One worldview says it’s your job to control and narrow as much as possible, to monitor and restrict and keep track of shirkers, so that you’re sure that that your staff spends as much time as possible doing “their work” (whatever that means to you). This is a great approach if you believe that your staff is comprised of glorified, white-collar widget producers, if you believe that you’re putting $X in to pay their salary and that success is getting as many of your employees as possible to produce 1.5X in terms of output.
Man, it’s exhausting just writing that.
Treat people like shirkers and they’ll want to shirk more. Treat their time like a finite resource that you have to grab as much of as possible and you’ll get the least allowable effort and no inspiration.
What you should really worry about is employees who don’t get great new ideas from the outside; employees who don’t come in rabid and crazy with something they just read on a blog; employees who don’t make random, interesting connections that bring surprising, wonderful people into the fold.
You certainly can’t manufacture creativity and inspiration, but you definitely can wipe it out.